Czech Ambassador Defends Meeting
By Edith M. Lederer
Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, June 4, 2002; 5:37 PM
UNITED NATIONS –– Despite U.S. denials, the Czech government stands by its account that a suspected Iraqi intelligence agent met Sept. 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta in Prague last year, a senior Czech diplomat said Tuesday.
Czech officials revealed details about the meeting shortly after the terrorist attacks on the United States. But U.S. intelligence officials said in April that they no longer believed Atta met with Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, who served at the Iraqi embassy in Prague before he was expelled.
"Atta and al-Ani met," Czech U.N. Ambassador Hynek Kmonicek said in an interview with The Associated Press.
"The meeting took place as confirmed by the interior minister last fall," he said.
Kmonicek also spoke with the Prague Post in an interview which was published on the newspaper's Web site on Tuesday.
Some Czech officials said initially that Atta had contacted al-Ani to discuss an attack on the Prague building that serves as the headquarters for U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Czech authorities appeared to backtrack at the end of last year, but now stand by the story.
In Prague, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ales Pospisil said Kmonicek's remarks were consistent with what the government has been saying since October – that it has information that Atta and al-Ani met at least once in Prague.
"The ambassador only repeated the position held by Czech authorities, which is based on an analysis available to the interior ministry," Pospisil said.
Some observers said the meeting suggested Iraq's complicity in the Sept. 11 attacks – providing the United States with a reason to attack Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi government denied the meeting occurred and said the reports were fabricated to justify making Iraq a target in the U.S.-led war on terror.
Kmonicek, who once directed the Foreign Ministry's Middle East department, was acting foreign minister when al-Ani was expelled from the Czech Republic on April 22, 2001.
"He was engaging in activities beyond and outside his diplomatic duties," Kmonicek said. He said he called in the Iraqi charge d'affaires and informed him al-Ani was being kicked out of the country.
The expulsion took place just weeks after Atta and al-Ani met but Kmonicek said the connection was only discovered after Sept. 11.
Atta is thought to have been the ringleader of the 19 hijackers who carried out the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.